Investigating firearm-related evidence at a crime scene, including projectile and explosive behavior, is known as forensic ballistics. An expert in forensic ballistics matches bullets, fragments, and other pieces of evidence with the suspects’ or other parties involved in the case’s weapons. In criminal or civil cases, experts may be called to present the jury with an explanation of their conclusions.
The forensic ballistic specialist may gather and examine items such as Firearm spent cartridges, used live ammunition, and garments discovered at the crime site.
Three things must be identified by forensic ballistic experts, including the firearms that were used in the crime.
- Describe the features of the firearms that were used.
- The gun’s caliber and rifling patterns may be among the qualities.
- Find and gather any fingerprints found on the firearm.
How to Become a Forensic Ballistics Examiner?
Ballistics Experts/Examiners are included in the category of forensic science technicians by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They are also known as forensic ballistics experts, firearm and tool mark examiners, and gun examiners. Although forensic science technicians make up a relatively tiny portion of the workforce, their significance and level of skill cannot be understated. A forensic specialist is known as a “ballistics expert” gathers and examines evidence relating to ballistics, such as weapons, ammo, and related items.
The ballistics Expert investigates all aspects of a shooting occurrence involving weapons, including the probable range, trajectory, and angle of the shot as well as specific weaponry, clips, bullet fragments, and shell casings. The ballistics expert gathers and studies anything that has to do with ballistics or a weapon.
What is a Ballistics Examiner?
It is common to use the terms “firearms examiner” and “forensic ballistic specialist” interchangeably. Both of these terms are used to describe careers in law enforcement. The gathering of ballistic-related evidence from the crime scene, the extraction of pertinent information from the evidence, and the preparation of the reports are the responsibilities of a firearms examiner or a ballistic expert. The list of ballistics-related evidence includes all guns and ammunition.
Physics is the foundation of the science of ballistics. On the crime scene, forensic ballistic specialists are asked to determine several physics-related factors, such as trajectory, angle of fire, and probable distance. A ballistics specialist must also examine the gunshot fragments and gun shells that were discovered at the crime site.
A ballistics expert is a forensic specialist with training in criminal justice who is also a Firearm and Toolmark Examiner professionally known for their expertise in ballistics and guns. The task of the ballistics expert is to gather and examine ballistics-related evidence. These could consist of:
- Live ammunition
- Spent cartridges
- Spent bullets or shell casings
- Bullet fragments
- Shotshell wadding
Ballistics specialists may visit crime scenes to gather evidence or may choose to spend a significant portion of their day reviewing the evidence to examine the firearms and conduct ballistics fingerprinting, which entails evaluating the marks left on weapons to ascertain which weapon was used in a shooting. They must also be able to identify certain details about a firearm, including rifling patterns, bullets, and calibers, as well as the precise rifle that fired the bullet.
They examine every detail of a firearm, including the impressions left by the firing pin, the extractor and ejector marks, and other tool marks. The ballistics experts may enter their data into a forensic guns identification system or comparable databases, such as the FBI’s ballistic database, in addition to putting up reports. Another option for teaching students about ballistics and gun analysis is to use ballistics experts.
Education Needed for This Career
Like the majority of forensic science technicians, ballistics experts are required to hold a bachelor’s degree in forensic science or a closely connected discipline. Because these disciplines are utilized to figure out things like statistics, how objects move, or how to identify specific chemical residues frequently found in firearms exams, the study should have a strong background in chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Additionally required is an understanding of biology and human anatomy.
The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission is recommended by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) to accredit programs. Students normally need four years to finish the program’s academic component. The student may finish these courses in addition to core and general education courses.
- Forensic toxicology
- Fingerprint analysis
- Criminal court systems
- Laboratory instrumentation usage
- Evidence collection
- Crime scene documentation
- Investigation procedures
The student will assist forensic science technicians or law enforcement officials at active crime scenes in addition to completing a supervised internship at a forensic laboratory. Additionally, some schools may provide internships at real ballistics labs where students can gain practical experience using weapons, ammunition, and explosives.
The candidate can start working in the field of ballistics and finish ballistics-specific training after completing the hands-on training. At this point, the applicant might need to serve as an apprentice while finishing their two- to three-year training in weapons forensics. They gain knowledge of evidence documentation, procedural guidelines, and evidence gathering as apprentices.
Despite not being legally required to hold a license, ballistics experts who have finished their training in firearms analysis must pass a competency test. This is necessary to demonstrate that they possess the skills and expertise necessary to handle criminal cases without supervision. Before they can testify in court as expert witnesses, they must also pass the test. The forensics industry is constantly evolving due to technological advancements, thus forensic technicians should take continuing education classes or go to seminars to keep current on new trends and rules.
Day in the Life of a Ballistics Examiner
Ballistics experts may be required to work overtime, on the weekends, or outside of the normal workweek to gather and examine the evidence. Additionally, they might have to go outside of their usual location or place of employment. There is no such thing as a “normal day in the office.” They might spend their time in an office or a lab, or they might have to work outside or in strange places to gather and seek evidence. They must perform their duties in all types of weather. Ballistics professionals must conduct extensive analysis and testing before writing comprehensive reports on their results that may be used in court proceedings, criminal prosecutions, or by law enforcement organizations.
In 2016, there were roughly 15,400 forensic science technicians working. Some of them worked for hospitals, state government organizations, testing labs, and medical and diagnostic facilities. Some ballistics professionals opt to operate independently or as consultants. The majority of them were employed by regional governments.
Traits and Qualities of a Ballistics Examiner
A ballistics expert must possess other skills and characteristics in addition to the necessary education and training. Ballistics professionals carry out crucial work that can aid in the investigation of crimes or even help establish whether a crime was indeed committed. To comprehend statistics and properly assess the facts, he needs solid scientific and math skills. The person must also have strong attention to detail and be able to analyze critically and solve problems.
These characteristics aid the person’s usage of the scientific procedures and tests required to examine evidence like DNA and fingerprints. Ballistics experts frequently provide written and oral reports that are utilized in court cases along with their testimony, so they must be effective communicators. A ballistics specialist must be able to communicate the information in a way that is understandable to others in addition to having the expertise and understanding necessary to gather, examine, and interpret evidence.
Career and Salary Outlook
The Bureau projects a 17% increase in employment for forensic science technicians between 2016 and 2026. The increased need for ballistics experts’ services is a result of technological advancements. These professionals are also needed by the government to help with the increasing number of criminal caseloads. By 2026, the positive job growth should provide roughly 2,600 new positions for forensic science technicians.
According to a B-LS report from May 2017, forensic science technicians made anywhere from $33,880 and $95,600 a year. Forensic science technicians make an average of $61,220 per year and $29.43 per hour nationwide. (salary differs from nation to nation and recruiters)